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Moussaoui Takes Stand for Second Time; Secrets for Sale?; New Calls for Rumsfeld's Resignation
Aired April 13, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, bloodthirsty wish. Zacarias Moussaoui says he wishes savage 9/11-type attacks could happen over and over again and that he'd kill Americans any time, anywhere. At his trial today, the al Qaeda conspirator even used the Koran to explain his hatred for the United States.
It's 3:30 a.m. in Afghanistan now, where the U.S. military is investigating reports of sensitive information making its way into the open market.
And serve thy god or serve thy self? In the culture wars tonight, a new reality TV show follows young would-be priests struggling to decide if they should have relations with women or cement their relationship with god.
I'm Heidi Collins, in for Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
First this hour, the chilling words of al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Today he told jurors holding his life in their hands that he'd like to see the September 11th attacks happen "every day."
Testifying in the death penalty phase of his trial, Moussaoui mocked 9/11 victims and their families. He said he wished more had died and that their pain made his day.
CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena is live for us in Alexandria, Virginia, now with the very latest on this story -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Heidi.
Now, this is the second time in this trial that Moussaoui has taken the stand against his lawyers' advice. And again, he shocked the courtroom.
ARENA (voice over): "I just wish it could have gone on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, the 15th, the 16th and the 17th." Those are the words of convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, when asked what he thought about the September 11th attacks.
Moussaoui took the stand for the second time and told jurors he had no regret, no remorse over the 9/11 deaths. In fact, he said he was disgusted by witnesses who wept on the stand over the loss of their loved ones.
Abraham Scott, whose wife died in the Pentagon, was watching.
ABRAHAM SCOTT, 9/11 FAMILY MEMBER: I have no pity for him. I can't -- and I don't know whether I'm contradicting myself -- I don't hate him, but I do believe that he -- he needs to be -- he needs to be punished, punished to the fullest.
ARENA: Moussaoui testified he hates the United States because of its support of Israel and that under his interpretation of the Koran, Muslims must fight against those who don't share their beliefs. Moussaoui told jurors he thought his lawyers did a bad job defending him and shouldn't have said he's mentally ill.
JOSH BERMAN, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: They may just shake their heads and say, this is further evidence that he's not of completely sound mind, which, of course, plays into his defense lawyers' defense.
ARENA: Moussaoui insisted he's not crazy, but he provided some answers that could be described as delusional. He said President Bush will free him from prison by the end of his term and that he believes that 100 percent because he had a dream about it.
ARENA: Moussaoui insisted he doesn't want to be executed. "I want to fight," he said. Prosecutor argue that if kept alive, Moussaoui could kill Americans in jail, to which Moussaoui replied, "Any time, anywhere" -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Kelli Arena.
Thank you, Kelli.
And now a CNN "Security Watch." Surprising and potentially disturbing developments from Afghanistan tonight. Has classified military information gotten on to the open market?
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us. He joins us now live.
Brian, what did you find out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, we've been provided access to information that is sensitive, and the fact that it's made its way in to public areas could be damaging and embarrassing to the U.S. military.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice over): A sprawling bazaar just yards from the biggest U.S. facility in Afghanistan where hundreds of suspected terrorists are held. For sale here, athletic shoes, flashlights, watches, an old kid's basketball hoop.
MEERWEIS, CONTRACTOR AT BAGRAM AIR BASE (through translator): Everything you find in the base you can find here.
TODD: Including flash drives like this one, the size of a cigarette lighter. CNN was provided access to information on one of these disks, what appears to be classified information from a U.S. military briefing at Bagram Air Base in February 2005.
Maps showing border crossing points, U.S. and Afghan military positions, construction of roads and other installations, important information on Taliban personnel and sympathizers with first and last names, and on the diversion of al Qaeda resources to Iraq. The selling of similar disks was first reported by the "Los Angeles Times." CNN is not reporting all the information we saw out of security concerns.
One former Special Forces soldier who examined this information says it appears to be authentic and there are key characteristics he recognizes. We don't know when this disk made its way out of Bagram or exactly how.
CNN interviewed several Afghani men who work inside or with the Bagram base. This man, who says he's the president of a company that does contract work at Bagram, says some material is smuggled out by locals who work there.
But with some items...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's the Americans themselves who bring it outside the base. They themselves day and night steal anything that comes in their way and bring it. The Afghans bring it, too. They probably help each other.
TODD: It's not clear if he means American military personnel or civilians. We called the Pentagon for comment. They referred us to the local U.S. command in Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials there would not go on camera, but say the Army's criminal investigation command is looking into the allegations. And when reached by CNN, a spokesman said, to protect the integrity of the investigation, they would not comment further.
The military did issue a statement reading, in part, "Coalition officials regularly survey bazaars across Afghanistan for the presence of contraband materials, but thus far have not uncovered sensitive or classified items."
CMD. SGT. MAJ. STEVEN GREER, U.S. ARMY (RET.): There's a number of items here that in and of themselves are probably highly sensitive. The good news in this is that it appears this information is dated. TODD: Still, retired Army Sergeant Major Steven Greer, who spent 10 years in the Special Forces, says this information can still be of use to Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
GREER: It presents a look for the insurgent forces as to what we look at and what we think is important when we conduct our campaign.
TODD: And what Greer calls battle rhythm, like a calendar showing when commanding generals were meeting each week.
TODD: Another military intelligence expert says it is possible these disks were leaked out as part of a deception campaign, but Steven Greer says in those operations he's never seen a case where first and last names were released.
Now, if investigators find evidence of a security breach at Bagram, it won't be the first time. Last July, four key al Qaeda suspects about to be sent to Guantanamo Bay escaped from the detention facility there. They are still at large -- Heidi.
COLLINS: All right. Brian Todd, we'll be watching that one. Thank you very much.
And meanwhile, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Tonight, the ranks of retired generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld to resign are growing. The White House is standing behind the defense secretary and his handling of the Iraq mission. But the pressure for Rumsfeld to go is clearly building.
Let's check in now with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Heidi.
Well, that pressure seems to really be focused on retired generals. Commanders, now at least two of them who commanded divisions in the war in Iraq, have called for the secretary to step down. The latest today, we spoke at home, at is home in North Carolina, to retired Major General Charles Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in western Iraq during much of the insurgency, and he was very blunt about his views.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. CHARLES SWANNACK, JR. (RET.), U.S. ARMY 82ND AIRBORNE COMMANDER: I feel that he is micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objectives. I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: The White House, again, clearly on the defensive today. The White House spokesman very strongly offering President Bush's support for the secretary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... a job during a challenging period in our nation's history. The secretary has led the Department of Defense during two wars, wars that resulted in the liberation of 25 million people in Afghanistan and 25 million people in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Here at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld's aides are becoming very defensive, if you will, about this, saying that it's not a distraction for the secretary, that he is continuing to do his job. But on a personal level, they're certainly moving around the building talking to journalists, talking to reporters, expressing their anger at these retired generals who are coming out.
They say, where were they when they were on duty? Why didn't they speak up then? They insist they have never heard this type of criticism. But at the end of the day, it's really President Bush's opinion that matters. And by all accounts, Rumsfeld isn't going anywhere -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.
Thank you, Barbara.
Now to a story of major concern to millions of people who wear contact lenses. Our Ali Velshi is here with "The Bottom Line."
Ali, I think I use this stuff, Bausch & Lomb MoistureLoc?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bausch & Lomb MoistureLoc is being -- it was pulled from a lot of people's shelves earlier this week. Now Bausch & Lomb announcing that it will take out ads in national newspapers tomorrow and on Sunday asking people not to use Bausch & Lomb's MoistureLoc.
This comes out of an investigation from the Centers for Disease Control of 109 complaints of something called fungal keratitis, which if untreated could lead to permanent vision loss. Bausch & Lomb has been investigating this in 26 of those 109 cases that patients reported using Bausch & Lomb MoistureLoc. They've also used other products in some of those cases.
But Bausch & Lomb now saying that despite the fact that some of the places that sell this have already pulled it from the shelves, it is now taking out ads to tell people, do not to use this until they figure out what is wrong. Wal-Mart, Walgreen's, CVS, Sears, Rite-Aid, they've already pulled MoistureLoc from the shelves, but now Bausch & Lomb saying MoistureLoc ReNu -- or ReNu with MoistureLoc, a contact lens solution, is being pulled and people shouldn't use it -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Yes, because I remember the night before last is when they stopped shipping it, so I saw that story and got worried. VELSHI: They stopped shipping it, but they left it up to the retailers to decide whether they're going to sell it. Now they're saying, don't sell it.
COLLINS: And can people get their money back? Did you mention that? If they bring it in, you can get all your money back?
VELSHI: Or go to the Bausch & Lomb Web site, or -- there's a phone number there. Or you can go to the Web site. You can get your money back, or you can exchange it for another Bausch & Lomb product.
COLLINS: All right. Ali Velshi, thank you.
And time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty is in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Heidi.
Like everything else in Washington, now the White House Easter egg roll is becoming political. Hundreds of gay and lesbian parents are planning to start lining up tomorrow night to get tickets for the Monday event.
Here's the interesting part. They say they're not going to carry signs or chant slogans, but they will wear rainbow-colored leis. Why?
The executive director of the Family Pride Coalition says she doesn't think this is a protest, but some say the parents are playing politics. One critic wrote a column saying gay civil rights groups were making covert plans to crash the annual event. Others are calling it, "Brokeback Bunny," a reference to the movie "Brokeback Mountain," in online message boards.
First lady Laura Bush says all families are welcome to attend.
The question is this: Is there anything wrong with gay families participating in the White House Easter egg roll?
E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
I suppose my question, Heidi, is no, there's nothing wrong. Bring the kids. Who cares who their parents are? but why do the gay and lesbian parents have to wear some sort of rainbow-colored necklace or whatever it is?
COLLINS: I don't know. We'll hear what your viewers have to say, of course, Jack. We'll check back in just a moment. OK? Thanks.
Coming up, Howard Dean and Ken Mehlman on Iraq, the president and the race for '08. They're both in THE SITUATION ROOM. Plus, did AT&T help the government help spy on your e-mail? It's a story you saw first on CNN. Tonight, new details.
Also, reality religion. Men trying to be priests are forced to make a choice between god or a girl. Find out why some Catholics are outraged over this new show.
COLLINS: Tonight, new partisan skirmishes over the Iraq war and President Bush's credibility. Bush allies vehemently deny the president knowingly gave out false information about weapons of mass destruction. But Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean is seizing on a new report that says Mr. Bush presented evidence of WMD that had already been debunked.
I spoke with Dean today.
COLLINS: Governor Dean, you came out yesterday and blasted the president saying that he ignored intelligence on WMD. Are you implying that the president lied about that?
HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATL. CMTE. CHMN.: We don't know, Heidi, once again, whether the president wasn't informed -- in which case the administration is incompetent -- or whether he did know and then he deliberately lied to the American people. We deserve to know that.
What I asked the president to do was declassify this report. The president was willing, as it turned out two weeks ago, to declassify classified information for the purposes of defaming his political opponents.
Well, I don't think that's a very good reason to declassify information but I do think it's a good reason to declassify information to find out if the president of the United States has told the truth to the American people before he sent hundreds of thousands of Americans abroad to fight in the Iraq war.
So I want the president to declassify that report, let the American people know what did the president know and when did he know it? Did he deliberately mislead us? Or did he do it because people kept information from him in his administration?
COLLINS: Governor Dean, do you believe that that is moving forward or moving backward in continuing to talk about an issue that some would say has been covered?
DEAN: I think the issue of honesty and ethics in this administration is front and center. We've had arrests and convictions -- excuse me -- arrests in the White House, investigations in the White House. We've had arrests in the vice president's office, investigations in the vice president's office.
We've had the Republican leader of the Senate under investigation for insider trading, the Republican leader of the House having to resign. This Republican administration is full of corruption from top to bottom. We need to know if that reaches the president of the United States or not. If it reaches the president of the United States, he's in deep trouble.
COLLINS: Let's go ahead and listen for just a moment to White House press secretary Scott McClellan with something that he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCLELLAN: This is nothing more than rehashing an old issue that was resolved long ago. I cannot count how many times the president has said the intelligence was wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Your thoughts, Governor Dean?
DEAN: The -- this is not a matter of intelligence. This is a matter of what our people knew about those trailers and the fact that they reported those trailers did not have and were not being used as by biochemical laboratories.
That information was available to the president of the United States. He sent us to war using that information. It wasn't the intelligence was wrong, they had the intelligence. The intelligence was right and the president ignored the intelligence or else did he not know about it.
Only one of two things can be the case. Either the president deliberately misled the nation and sent our troops to war anyway, or people from the administration withheld that information from the president of the United States.
That goes to the heart of two issues of this next election is going to be about. One is the qualifications and competency of this president. And the other is the honest and trustworthiness, honesty and trustworthiness of this president. The American people deserve to know if their president is honest.
COLLINS: Governor Dean, you talk about elections. Let's move forward to that for a moment. Midterm elections coming up and there is a 30-seat majority in the House that the Republicans have. There is a headline in "The Washington Post" today that I'm sure you probably saw. "Democrats face uphill battle to retake the House." Uphill battle in your eyes?
DEAN: Well, we think the election issue is, do you want more of the same or do you want a real change? What we're willing to do is first have real ethics legislation that we will vote on in the first hundred days.
Second, we want a strong national defense that depends on telling the truth to the American people. Third we want American jobs that will stay in America using energy independence. We think these kinds of issues are the issues that are going to change the tide in America. We offer a change. We offer something new, a bolder vision.
COLLINS: What exactly is that change? How does the Democratic Party differentiate itself from the Republican Party? Because the goals that you mention or the agenda that you mention, I think a lot of people want.
DEAN: I think they do. A lot of American people including Republicans are tired of the dishonesty and the culture of corruption the Republicans brought to Washington.
I think a lot of American people believe they ought to be told the truth before people get sent to war. And I think a lot of American people are wondering why the president persists in sending every manner of job to other countries.
Under this president, for five years, the average income adjusted for inflation of average Americans has gone down by $2,300 dollars. I've not seen that. I think this country hasn't seen it since the Hoover depression. So...
COLLINS: ... exactly the change, though, what will be glaringly different?
DEAN: Glaringly different, we will pass real ethics legislation that denies corporate trips on corporate planes in the first hundred days. And denies the Republicans the right to stick things in conference committees that were never voted on, these kind of things.
That cost us $20 billion in December when the Republicans stuck something in the budget that sent $20 billion to HMOs. Tens of billions of dollars went to oil companies under this Republican legislation.
Enough of that stuff. The American people are sick of it. We want American jobs to stay in America and that means creating jobs that will stay here using energy independence.
COLLINS: But what about the Democratic Party and their thoughts on you in this job?
DEAN: We've turned this party around. I meet every week or every other week with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
We're working together. We have a message that we think is a strong message. We have a grassroots operation in every one of the 50 states now.
None of those things we had before. We're remaking the Democratic Party into the party of change, the party that can bring real change to America.
COLLINS: Governor Howard Dean.
And still to come tonight, new developments in the CIA leak case. Also, a Republican defense of the president on Iraq. Party chairman Ken Mehlman answers the credibility questions being raised by Howard Dean and the Democrats.
And imagine making a choice between god and girls. It's a subject of a new reality TV show and some Catholics are outraged.
COLLINS: And now to the latest disclosure in the CIA leak case. President Bush has acknowledged declassifying information to build support for the Iraq war, but did he have any role in the leak that's actually at the center of this case? Defendant and former White House aide Lewis Libby now has weighed in on that through his lawyers.
Here's our national correspondent, Bob Franken -- Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, Scooter Libby's lawyers were making an effort in their filing to undo the impression that had been left last week by the special prosecutor that the president and vice president were involved directly into the campaign to discredit Joe Wilson, who was the administration critic, by exposing the identity of his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame.
It was in a footnote. It was buried on page 21 of the motion.
It said, "We emphasize that, consistent with his grand jury testimony, Mr. Libby does not contend that he was instructed to make any disclosures concerning Ms. Wilson by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or anyone else."
Very, very interesting wording. There was nothing that constituted a direct denial. But, the filing went on as the lawyers try to convince a judge that they should have access to intelligence material, that they need it to prove that this was a much larger operation than simply the vice president's office. They say that they're going to plan to call witnesses like Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, himself, facing the possibility of indictment.
An interesting quote in the document, also. The lawyers saying, there's a "... notion that involves only Mr. Libby and the office of the vice president." "That," it went on, "is a fairy tale."
Well, this is a story where the ending is not known, but it is one that is going to go on for quite a while -- Heidi.
COLLINS: All right. Bob Franken, thank you.
Just ahead, problems in Iraq. A dilemma with Iran. So, how does President Bush get back on track? I'll ask the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman.
And in the culture wars, four young men and their call to god. How might 20-somethings of today do with the struggle between sex and celibacy? That's the focus of a new reality TV show. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COLLINS: International efforts to reign in Iran's nuclear program aren't making any headway. And the stage is now set for a showdown in the United Nations Security Council. And while the Bush administration won't rule out the option of military intervention, there's one factor that could complicate things. CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider is here with that. Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Heidi, it was called the Vietnam syndrome. Every time the prospect of military intervention came up, the issue was, is this another Vietnam? Is there an Iraq syndrome emerging now?
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Most Americans now say the Iraq war was a mistake. Will that produce an Iraq syndrome, concern that any use of force by the United States will turn into another Iraq? The current challenge is Iran's nuclear program.
The Bush administration does not rule out the use of force against Iran. But it doesn't exactly embrace it, either.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The president has indicated his concern about the country, but it is just simply not useful to get into fantasy land.
SCHNEIDER: A question in a new poll asks, "If Iran continues to produce material that can be used to make nuclear weapons, would you support military action against Iran?" The answer is a cautious yes, 48 to 40 percent. Iran is openly defiant about its nuclear program, although it says its purposes are peaceful.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And nuclear technology serves peaceful purposes.
SCHNEIDER: The U.S. is not alone in its concerns.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Most countries are on record as being concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
SCHNEIDER: Americans' reluctance to endorse the use of force against Iran may have bigger reasons than any Iraq syndrome.
O'HANLON: I think Americans are still fairly nervous about using force of any type under any circumstances, and there tends to be a high threshold for supporting such uses of force. And that, I think, is the fundamental reason why we are not at war anywhere else right now, as opposed to any Iraq syndrome.
SCHNEIDER: The clearest evidence of an Iraq syndrome comes from this question: "Do you trust George W. Bush to make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran?" Most Americans say they don't.
SCHNEIDER: That may be the real Iraq syndrome, a credibility gap for this president -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Bill Schneider, thank you.
Iraq is weighing heavily on the Bush White House. And Republicans, but it's just one of several problems now facing the GOP and the party chairman.
COLLINS: Joining me is Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and apparently the number one guest of the show. I said it. There you go.
you've been on a lot. And it's a pleasure meeting you. Let me just ask...
KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: (INAUDIBLE) those revenues.
COLLINS: Yes. Yes -- right.
We want to go to some sound from David Gergen.
COLLINS: He's a person, obviously, who has served both for Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, his opinion on this current administration...
COLLINS: ... right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think they're in deep, deep trouble. And they may not be able to get out of this hole before it's over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: In response to the "Washington Post" story, and the trailers, and the WMD in Iraq, your response to that?
MEHLMAN: Well, I disagree with Mr. Gergen.
I think that this president is providing leadership that is helping not only keep prosperity in our country -- we saw again last month more than 200,000 jobs created -- but is doing what's necessary to take this tough battle against terrorists and make sure we are fighting over there, as opposed to keeping them safe over here. In terms of the trailer story you're talking about, once again, what we heard from the Democrat chairman is more playing politics in the war on terror. The fact is that, before we invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power, Howard Dean said, George Bush believed, Hillary Clinton believed, John Kerry believed, the French believed, the Germans believed, all over the world, people believed he had WMD.
It turns out, the intelligence indicated that wasn't the case. And now, what we're trying to do is fix the intelligence. And what you have from the other side is an attempt to play politics. And I think, if the American people will have to choose, as they will, this coming November, between one party that wants to do whatever it takes to win the war on terror and another party that changes its position to win the next spin cycle, I think the American people are going to vote to elect Republicans.
COLLINS: But it is a fair question, is it not, to ask what the president knew and when he knew it?
MEHLMAN: And -- and, look, this president has been very clear in declassifying a lot of information, so that the public understood what he knew.
We also know something else. Presidents make that decision on the basis of, one, what the public should know, and, two, on the basis of not compromising sources and methods. So, rather than being out there with a charge that is irresponsible and that shows his own hypocrisy, which Chairman Dean has done, I think it would be better for folks to stop and say, you know what? We're not going to try to spin everything. And we're not trying to win every news cycle.
We are going to allow this process to go forward, and we are going to work in a bipartisan way to fix the intelligence process, which this president is already doing, in order to make sure Americans are safe in the years to come.
COLLINS: All right. Well, let's move on to approval numbers now. I want to go ahead and show this poll of polls, if you will, the top five polls...
COLLINS: ... from the week, that we have compiled.
Look at these numbers. I'm not going to read them all, but we see the average there, 37 percent.
And then, also, something that Senator McCain said, I want you to listen to this. And I will get your response to it in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Two thousand six is going to be a rough -- a little straight talk -- it's going to be a rough, rough election for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Is the party in trouble?
MEHLMAN: Well, I think that Senator McCain is correct, that the six-year itch, as they call it, which is the second midterm in a president's term, is always a challenge.
Obviously, we're in -- all in the middle of a tough war. That makes the challenge also serious. We take the challenge of 2006 seriously, which is why I'm confident that, when Congress comes back, you are going to see action on passing a budget that cuts the deficit in half; you are going to see action on protecting our borders and making sure we are a welcoming nation; you are going to see action on making the tax cuts permanent, so that we don't have a big tax increase, which is what you would get from the Democrats; you are going to see action on making sure that we make health care more affordable and available; you are going to see action on all of these areas.
The fact is, the president is not on the ballot in 2006. And...
COLLINS: That's right.
MEHLMAN: ... the people that are on the ballot are going to provide the American people a clear choice.
You had Chairman...
MEHLMAN: ... Dean on, who said, they are going to make a big change in economic policy.
Let me tell you what the first one is going to be. The first one is going to be a $2.4 trillion tax increase over the next 10 years, because the first thing they are going to do is bring back the marriage penalty...
COLLINS: Well, let's talk about...
MEHLMAN: ... the death tax.
COLLINS: Let's talk about your party.
COLLINS: I think it serves you better to talk about your party, quickly, here.
The immigration issue, as you bring up...
COLLINS: ... the Republican Party, not united on this. MEHLMAN: Yes.
COLLINS: Is that damaging, to have a party split here?
MEHLMAN: Well, I think that Republicans, like all Americans, recognize this is a challenging issue and want to come together.
We need to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. But here's what Republicans believe. We believe that the legislative process should go forward. And what the Democrats, what Harry Reid did is, he played politics with it.
He killed a compromise. According to Ted Kennedy, according to "The Washington Post," not two Republican organs, Harry Reid was the guy that prevented this compromise from going forward, prevented us from dealing with this issue. He played politics. And that was wrong, and that was unfortunate.
What I think the American people want to see is people come together to protect our borders, to secure our borders, to protect our laws, and to make sure we remain welcoming. I'm confident we can do that. But we couldn't do it last time, because Harry Reid played politics.
COLLINS: But, you know, you bring up Howard Dean.
And, earlier, when we spoke with Howard Dean, he said that their number-one goal is that they are going to really improve their ethics in the Democratic Party.
MEHLMAN: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. I wonder...
COLLINS: Any response?
MEHLMAN: ... what Congressman Mollohan thinks about that. I wonder what Congressman Conyers, who recently was -- according to reports, they -- his staff was being baby-sitters for his office.
Look, the fact is, what I think about ethics -- and I have said repeatedly -- it shouldn't be partisan cudgel to hit your opponents. The fact is that if a Republican or a Democrat has done something inappropriate, illegal, they ought to suffer the consequences. I have said that from the beginning. And I'm going to condemn it.
The difference is, Chairman Dean went on another network and said, it's wrong what Republicans did, and then condemned Harry Reid for the exact same thing.
COLLINS: We are going to...
MEHLMAN: That's hypocrisy. And that's what the American people don't want to see.
COLLINS: We appreciate you being here today.
MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot, thanks. COLLINS: And I think we'll probably see you again, from what I hear.
COLLINS: Thank you very much.
COLLINS: Ken Mehlman tonight. And now an update on a story you first heard hear in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're learning new details about a class action lawsuit against AT&T. Some AT&T subscribers claim the company gave the NSA access to millions of its customers online communications. Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has the latest on this. Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Heidi, plaintiffs believe that they have proof that AT&T gave access to the NSA its vast databases. Internal AT&T documents furnished to the plaintiff by a former AT&T employee. Now, AT&T says they cannot comment on continuing litigation, but court documents show that the telecom giant is trying to keep these documents confidential. They say they these three documents contained trade secrets, that they belong to AT&T and they were taken without permission. The NSA is not commenting on this lawsuit. What AT&T did say is that they follow all laws with respect to requests by governmental authorities. Heidi?
COLLINS: All right, Abbi Tatton, thank you.
Up ahead tonight, reality on the ground. We'll speak to one war vet who says there's more to Iraq than what politicians and the media are saying.
And in the culture wars, reality and religion. Young men aspiring to priests forced to make a decision between God or a girl. Find out why some Catholics are outraged over this new show.
COLLINS: With the Iraq war now in its fourth year, some critics have suggested that the morale of the U.S. troops is low. Not so, says my next guest. Wade Zirkle is a former Marine lieutenant who served two deployments in Iraq. He is now the executive director of Vets for Freedom, and says he and his group would gladly go back to Iraq. Thanks for being with us.
WADE ZIRKLE, EXEC. DIR., VETS FOR FREEDOM: Thank you for having me, Heidi.
COLLINS: You bet. You know, all this talk in Washington, and we heard some criticism from retired generals of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. We've heard some strategic war planning criticism. We've heard politicians say, you know, we never should have gone. What, in your opinion, does that do to the troops?
ZIRKLE: Well, definitely, it hurts morale. The misconception is that the troops don't pay attention to what is going on stateside, and they eat in the chow halls when they come back from missions, and they do hear the negativism that is going on and they hear politicians using the troops for political grandstanding. And, frankly, the troops have their own opinions, and we believe in the mission, and we want the American people to know that.
We don't want to be pitied. We don't want people to feel sorry for us. We want the American people to support what we're doing.
COLLINS: Did you talk about that amongst yourselves when you were there?
ZIRKLE: Absolutely. And the overwhelming amount of veterans and active duty service members that are in Iraq and Afghanistan, believe in the mission, and that's very evident in the retention numbers that are coming out. There were some released by the Pentagon this week. The Iraq and Afghanistan troops are reenlisting at a far greater rate than troops out of the theater, which tells me that the troops believe in the mission, they want to win, and we need American support to win it.
And, Heidi, just to touch on one more thing. The enemy knows that the only way the U.S. can be beat is to sap the will of the American people. And that's our critical vulnerability. So, what Vets for Freedom is trying to do is to reenergize American public support for the war, by giving the Americans the veterans' perspective, the ones that are sweating and bleeding in this war.
COLLINS: But, you know, to be fair, you have veterans, retired generals, who are coming out, some of them commanders, combat commanders, saying now Rumsfeld should go. There were mistakes made, there was no planning for the insurgency. What do troops think when they see these high-ranking military officials, former military officials saying things like that?
ZIRKLE: Well, the fact of the matter is, there have been a few generals who have come out and have aired some grievances, but that's three or four out of several hundred retired flag officers and general officers. So, I think it's important to keep that in mind. The troops on the ground, though, remain committed to the mission at hand, which is a free, stable and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan. And we want the politicians, the civilian leadership to know that we're committed to this mission. We just need their support to finish it.
COLLINS: It is certainly a tough, tough mission. In fact, I want to go ahead and read what Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, one of the retired generals, said. He's telling us that he's "driven to action now by the missteps and misjudgments of the White House and the Pentagon, and by my many painful visits to our military hospitals. The cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood." It seems a little bit like he's questioning whether the casualties are worth it in Iraq.
ZIRKLE: Absolutely. And I go to Walter Reed in Bethesda frequently and I talk to the wounded warriors that are there, and their morale is high. And they know that they were wounded in a mission in which they believe.
I think it's important for the American people to know that, and the costs are worth it. We're fighting a very evil enemy that will stop at nothing to kill Americans at any cost. And this is not -- and here's another thing. We can look back and play armchair quarterback all day long, but the fact is, where do we go from here? And we're getting things right in Iraq right now. We're training the Iraqi security forces, and that's what is important. We're on the track to success. It's going to be a long fight, but it is going to happen.
COLLINS: But you say, and certainly on your Web site you say, as well, why do you believe that the troops and their opinions and the supporters of the war are really not being heard?
ZIRKLE: Well, I think part of it is that people gravitate towards sensationalism and negativism, and that's unfortunate because there are a lot of success stories going on over there. But unfortunately, that is not what people gravitate towards. They see the car bombs on the news and they see the body counts. And you know, if that's all I knew about the Iraq war, I'd be against it, too, but there is a lot more to that, a lot of context that often isn't offered. And I think it's important to consider that. And I think if the American people saw what's going on over there and listened to people that have spent months and years on the ground in Iraq -- and let me tell you something else, Heidi. We have -- we're the ones that have every reason to be against this mission. I mean, I've lost nearly two dozen of my friends in this war. I was badly burned in a suicide car bomb. I lost seven of my Marines. We have every reason to be against this war, but we know what evil is, we know what terrorism -- we want to win it. We need the American support to do it, though.
COLLINS: Lieutenant Wade Zirkle, we appreciate you as a guest today.
ZIRKLE: Thank you.
COLLINS: Thank you very much.
ZIRKLE: Thank you for having me, Heidi.
COLLINS: Up ahead now, in the culture wars, God or the girl? The new reality show asks prospective priests to choose. Find out why some Catholics say it crosses the line.
Plus, White House Easter egg hunt. Gay parents are planning to take their kids this year. Is it good family fun, or a political showboat? Jack Cafferty is taking your e-mail.
COLLINS: Tonight in the culture wars, caught between heaven and earth. That's how some of the real-life participants to a new reality TV show say they feel. It follows four young men struggling to balance their earthly wants against their godly needs.
Our Chris Lawrence is in Los Angeles with the story. Hi, Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Heidi, it's a case of reality TV finally finding religion, but this show is taking on a topic that's never really been looked at in this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've decided to abstain from sexual relationships with women.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): It's reality TV with a religious twist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm fortunate enough, God will make me a priest.
LAWRENCE: A&E's "God or the Girl" follows four young men as they decide whether to enter the priesthood or keep their lives as laypeople.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am falling in love with Allie (ph), and it is making my decision that much harder.
LAWRENCE: Some say the concept alone is outrageous, in light of the church abuse scandal.
STEVE SANCHEZ, ABUSE VICTIM: Some victims are going to take it as, you know, a slap in the face.
LAWRENCE: Steve Sanchez says he was sexually assaulted by a priest, and claims the show was green-lighted party because of the Catholic Church crisis.
SANCHEZ: If the scandal had not happened when somebody was pitching the idea of this reality show about four boys coming into the priesthood, they would have said, no, move on, give me another idea. But with the current coverage that's happened, you know, it is a hot topic.
LAWRENCE: It may sound like "Temptation Island," but the show is actually, quote, "a wonderful insight into what goes into making the decision to study for the priesthood today, and helps the viewer realize that God does call healthy, vibrant, and energetic young men."
Those are quotes from Catholic priests, and the show has a ringing endorsement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It gets into the minds of all four characters ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, am I going to have the courage?
LAWRENCE: ... as some struggle with the choice between devoting their lives to God or marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I go to a wedding like this, I think of Ali and having a family and having kids. LAWRENCE: A&E realizes the title alone is controversial, but says "God or the Girl" gets people interested. Quote, "we frankly considered others, but our job is to make sure people see this compelling documentary.
LAWRENCE: The producers say if they were Catholic, people might say that they went easy on the church, and if they were evangelical Christians, some might say well, they're bashing Catholics. But the producers are Jewish, which they say kept them totally unbiased. The first episode airs on Easter Sunday -- Heidi.
COLLINS: That's a fascinating one. All right, Chris Lawrence, thank you.
In fact, the men in this new reality TV show will be on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Also joining them, religious leaders.
And now to a developing story. Tonight, a warning of the largest mumps epidemic in the United States since the late 80s. Let's get the latest from our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Heidi, the Iowa Department of Public Health is monitoring this epidemic and they're posting constant updates on their Web site. I want to put the 600 cases into context for you. Iowa in a normal year sees five cases of the mumps.
Now, the age group being affected most right now is 18 to 24 year olds, that represented by the yellow you see on the chart. Fifty- three counties in Iowa affected. It has now spread to eight other midwestern states.
The CDC doesn't know how it started, but it thinks it might be spread by air travel and they're looking into people who may have been flown on a flight with two people from Iowa who had the mumps and flew between March 26th and April 2nd. You can go to the CDC Web site or CNN.com/situationreport to get more information -- Heidi.
COLLINS: It's amazing it may have all come from just two people. All right. Jacki, thank you.
Let's find out now what is coming up on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Heidi.
Just about six minutes from now we'll be breaking an exclusive story. CNN has learned that a federal grand jury is now looking into whether baseball star Barry Bonds perjured himself during an earlier investigation into steroids in baseball.
Also tonight, an eye opening look at a way millions of parents and children put their lives on the line every day when they step into the road to get on to a school bus and hope other drivers will follow the law and actually stop. Well, I can tell you from my own experience, they don't, and we're going to take a look at what can be done to make people actually obey the law. It is a very scary thing.
It's my favorite past-time every weekday morning getting out in the middle of the street going like this to the cars.
COLLINS: You're the mad mommy. I hear you.
ZAHN: No, it is very scary and it's infuriating that they just don't stop.
COLLINS: All right. Paula, we'll certainly be watching. Thank you.
ZAHN: Thanks, Heidi.
COLLINS: Still ahead, gay parents planning to take their kids to the White House Easter Egg Roll. Jack Cafferty is taking your e-mail on that.
COLLINS: And Jack's here now with answers to your e-mails -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question, is there anything wrong with gay families participating in the White House Easter Egg Roll. They say plan to.
Sherri writes in Charlottesville, Virginia, "I believe this is nothing more than a political statement. Most Americans don't care what people do in private, but for some reason, these gay and lesbian parents feel the need to push their lifestyle choice down the American's throats. These parents want attention."
Alexander writes, "Gay and lesbian families are everywhere. Mr. Bush seems to think we're somehow subhuman or otherwise different from everyone else. We aren't. As parents, we have the same hopes, dreams and concerns as straight parents do."
Cheryl in Waggoner, Illinois: "In America, everyone should get to attend the Easter Egg hunt regardless. The Republicans kill me. They boast they are pro-family, family values, blah, blah, blah, which is code for a family headed by a rich, white Republican male only. Even those 12 million illegal aliens should get to go, all of them, even the gay ones.
And Josh in Indianapolis: "Jack, I thought Bush outlawed gays already" -- Heidi.
COLLINS: Jack Cafferty, thanks. We'll see you tomorrow, Jack.
And now, straight to "PAULA ZAHN NOW" -- Paula.
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